Ky. Officials: State Ready To Resume Executions

Feb 1, 2013

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky is ready to resume executions because a new one- or two-drug lethal injection method that took effect Friday addresses concerns by inmates that the previously used three-drug mixture amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, prosecutors said.

In a notice filed in Franklin Circuit Court, the Kentucky Attorney General's office told Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that the method should cancel out any arguments made by the condemned inmates. Prosecutors want a final ruling from Shepherd that would lift his order that stopped executions in Kentucky.

The revised regulations that went into effect Friday specify that doses of the drug used in the one-drug execution - 3 grams of sodium thiopental or 5 grams of pentobarbital - be repeated if the inmate has not died within 10 minutes.

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Attorney General's Office, said the motion speaks for itself.

"We await the ruling of the Franklin Circuit Court," Martin said.

In a two-drug execution, the warden may authorize continued injections of 60 milligrams of hydromorphone until the inmate dies, if the initial injection is not deadly. The regulations give the state the option of which method to use depending upon the availability of the drugs. Kentucky previously used sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

An open records request filed by The Associated Press in January showed that the state did not have a supply of any of the drugs used in an execution.

Shepherd halted all lethal injections in 2010 as the state prepared to execute Gregory L. Wilson, 56, for the 1987 rape, kidnapping and murder of 36-year-old Debbie Pooley in Kenton County.

Shepherd expressed concerns about whether an inmate's mental state could be properly determined before an execution and later ordered the state to switch to a single-drug or two-drug method. The change brings Kentucky in line with at least seven states using the single-drug execution protocol.

Attorneys for the condemned inmates said in response that the new regulations only render moot arguments that the three-drug execution is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual, not any other issues raised about the lethal injection process.

Because the new regulations call for the use of sodium thiopental, a drug that is in short supply in the United States, the state isn't really using a single-drug option, said public defender David Barron, who represents condemned inmate Ralph Baze.

"Being that Corrections was well-aware of the difficulty with, if not impossibility of obtaining either sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, one would reasonably expect that Corrections execution regulations would ensure that some other drug is available for use in a one-drug means of lethal injection," Barron wrote.

Companies that make sodium thiopental, a fast-acting anesthetic, have halted production of the drug in the United States, in part because of its use in executions. The maker of pentobarbital also opposes its use in executions.

Kentucky has executed three inmates since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, with the last execution being carried out in 2008. At least two and as many as seven inmates are at or near the end of their appeals.

Shepherd ordered the injunction after Wilson's attorneys argued that he was not mentally competent to be executed. Earlier this month, the attorneys withdrew that contention, saying they can no longer validate his school records to back their argument because the person that produced the records has died.

"As a result, he cannot prevail on the ultimate factual issue before the court," his attorney, public defender Dan Goyette, wrote in the motion filed in Kenton Circuit Court.

Goyette did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday afternoon.